The lost chapel and the ghost that haunts Coatham Mundeville

ON the most devilish crossroads in the district, stands the Foresters Arms, in Coatham Mundeville.

Coatham Mundeville in 1967

“My parents were the licensees of the Foresters Arms from 1958 and Ronnie and Doreen (always known as Rusty) Ayre, of nearby Hill House Farm, and their son, John, used to be customers,” says Christina Lupton.

“When I was old enough to be behind the bar, I always remember John used to get drunk one night in August so he could sleep in a hedgeback. He wouldn’t go back to Hill House because that night was due to be the annual appearance of a ghost called Willie Waff!

“Apparently his two younger sisters had seen the ghost and described it as being a Victorian gentleman wearing a top hat and cloak. He was supposed to have committed suicide there by hanging himself.”

Coatham Mundeville is a fascinating place, surrounded by plenty of strange earth shapes in the fields which suggest there was once a sizeable medieval village here.

The first word of its name means “cottage settlement” but the more exotic second word comes from the Amundeville family who were given land there by William the Conqueror as a reward for their part in his conquering.

In 1274, Thomas de Amundeville left money so that a chaplain would celebrate a mass every day in a chapel in the village to ensure that himself and his parents rested happily in heaven.

The church in Coatham Mundeville, built in the 1860s, to replace the lost chapel behind the pub. It has now been converted into a home.

This chapel, dedicated to St Mary Magdalene, is last mentioned in 1680 when it was in ruins. It is believed to have been in what is now the pub car park of the Foresters.

We’d always assumed that the pub takes its name from the Ancient Order of Foresters, a friendly society formed in 1834 which might have met there.

But the village’s major property is the Hall Garth, now a hotel. Its name means “meeting hall in a field” and here Bishop Antony Bek, one of the most powerful and militaristic prince bishops of Durham who was on the throne from 1283 to 1311, had a hunting lodge. The heavily wooded area was one of his many deerparks, and to this day, an 18th Century deerhouse is a feature of the hotel’s golf course.

Hall Garth Hotel and Country Club Hotel, Coatham Mundeville

The hotel itself is said to be haunted, not by Willie Waff but by a nun. It is said that she was bricked up in a secret room and left to die after she was caught having an affair with a member of the noble family who owned the hall, which seems a little unfair.

Some sources say she, like Willie Waff, appears once a year on a summer’s evening; other versions, particularly when the hotel is in need of publicity, say she’s a regular menace and Room 2 is not safe for lone women to sleep in because of her activities.

Readers will, of course, keep us right. Any tales, ghostly or otherwise, from Coatham Mundeville, please email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk

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